INSTRUCTION OF SCHOOL CHILDREN IN THE USE OF LIBRARY CATALOGS AND REFERENCE BOOKS
The necessity of close cooperation between school and library in the practical use of books as tools in order that we may have "our grown people more appreciative of the value of their public library and better able to use it" is clearly brought out in this article written by Miss Elizabeth Ellis, Peoria Public Library, for Public Libraries, July, 1899. Miss Ellis says: "It was written at a time when we had no children's department and was an account of my pioneer efforts made entirely as a side issue from my own work as general reference librarian."
Elizabeth Ellis spent one year in the New York State Library School, later taking three months of special work. With the exception of organizing a library at Wenona, Illinois, her work was with the Peoria Public Library. She is not now in library work.
Since the public school of today is the source from which must come our support tomorrow, it behooves us to give some attention to the proper training of our school children if we would have our grown people more appreciative of the value of their public library and better able to use it.
We cannot begin too early, and if the children fall into line there will be no trouble with the coming generation.
But they must learn to really use the library; to feel that they are standing on their own feet and using their own tools, not merely that there is a pleasant room where a good story may be had for the asking. They must grow up in such familiar use of the library in all its departments that it will come to be an actual necessity to them in the pursuit of knowledge.
There are music, drawing, and physical culture teachers for our schools; may we not have a few lessons in how to use a library to the best advantage as part of the course? This field for instruction may be worked to advantage by the librarian, with comparatively little expenditure of time after the first round has been made.
Teachers often feel that they have themselves already more outside work than they can accomplish, but they are really glad to have this instruction given in their schools, and in our experience they have invariably taken great interest in it and have done all in their power to further our efforts.
There is certainly no library work which sends in its returns more promptly, for children feel an instinctive sense of ownership in their library, and take a personal interest in anything pertaining to it. They give the most flattering attention and put their instructions into immediate practice. I believe they really take more interest in the subject when presented by "a lady from the library" than if it were only an additional school lesson taught them by their teacher.
Most of the practical instruction must come in the grammar grades and high school, but it is well to begin as early as the third year, and possibly with the second, if there are found to be many children in a room who have already begun to take books and if there is no age limit. If it should so chance that only a small number in a room are library members, it is better to give only the general interesting library talk, leaving the specific instruction till a second visit, when the fruits of the first will probably appear. There is one point for the lowest room which it may be well to mention. See to it that they are learning to say their A B C's in the good old-fashioned way, for upon this depends all familiar use of catalogs and indexes.
Any child who can write can fill out a call slip, and this we teach them to do from the very first, either from a catalog when help in selection must be given, or from a special list of books for little children.
It must be impressed upon them that if they do not understand the general instruction you are always ready and glad to explain further. If they feel that you are really interested, even the smallest ones will work with enthusiasm to prepare their own call slips instead of asking each time for just any good book.
The intermediate grades, the fifth and sixth, and sometimes the fourth, are quite able to understand the general catalog. I should not advise much explanation at the school, at least in these grades, of the card catalog, if the library has a printed list. The use of a classed catalog, with its index, is easily comprehended, and there are many whole classes of books which these children will enjoy knowing about; boys, I should say, perhaps, for it is the pages containing electricity, photography, boat-building, and hunting, which are worn and crumpled. It is the classed catalog which they will use most, but they should understand the difference between it and the author list.
In all schools it is a good plan to give quizzes, even on a first visit, to draw the children out. Those who are already patrons of the library are delighted to show their knowledge. Afterwards it would be well before the day of the visit, with the teacher's consent, to send a short set of questions which would be answered and returned for correction, thus giving you an idea of what points need dwelling upon. These questions would vary from the simplest points in filling out library numbers, giving authors to titles and vice versa, to questions on arrangement, use of dictionary catalog and of various reference books.
In upper grades and high school add a simple explanation of the card catalog as being the most complete record, trusting to their interest in coming to the library to use it practically. If there is no printed catalog this explanation will have to be given to fifth and sixth years also.
They should be advised to use both kinds, and particularly the dictionary catalog for biography, as the short analytical references are most often what they want.
Children, boys again particularly, take to the card catalog with a confidence often lacking in their elders. I have seen them even make out their fiction lists from the cards in preference to the printed catalog, though for what reason I cannot explain, unless it is their innate desire to explore the unknown.
It is a good plan to have sample cards plainly written in large form on a sheet of paper, in addition to using a section of the catalog itself if it seems advisable to take it. In lower rooms a blackboard talk holds the attention better.
The use of the guide card, which misleads so many grown people, the heading in red, and the see and see also cards in the dictionary catalog, and the arrangement of biography in a classed list are a few points, which may need dwelling upon, and which I mention as having been found in our experience to be pitfalls for the unwary.
In the upper grade rooms, and particularly in the high school, comes the use of the encyclopedias and reference books.
I have found it hard to hold the attention of sixth-year pupils in this part, but they ought to be familiar with a good encyclopedia and biographical dictionary, and the gazeteer.
Tell them about Harper's Book of facts, Hayden's Dictionary of dates, the Century and Lippincott reference books and so on; also Chambers' Book of days, and the mythological dictionaries, in addition to the best encyclopedias, leaving at each school a descriptive list of these books for their further use. Call especial attention to the biographical dictionaries--few persons know how to use a set whose index is in the last volume; also note difference between table of contents and index in general books, and accustom them to use the latter. If there is a very large reference room it might be well to have some of the best books for school use collected on one shelf, and of course every children's room should be thus supplied.
Poole's index may be explained for the principle, but practically people are so sure to select the very volume you have not that it is well to use a little discretion with regard to it, unless you have made an index of all your own periodicals which are included in Poole, and can induce children to be patient enough to use it as a key to the other. The Cumulative index is rather better to teach them the use of periodicals, since it does not contain so many, and also as it gives such a very good idea of the dictionary catalog. The back numbers can be used in your explanations in the schoolroom for both purposes. Find out whether there is a debating society, and if so bring out Briefs for debate, Pros and cons, and tell them specially about the periodical indexes for late subjects.
Care must be taken not to crowd too much into one lesson, or to make it too technical; this latter point we must specially guard against, and experience in teaching comes into good use here. Their individual work with these books will have to be overlooked for some time, even though they are not conscious of it; and one must be ready to fly to the rescue and lend a helping hand without a special request, which I have found some children too timid to make.
In the first year of this kind of work the grammar grades and high school would need some of the instruction given in the lower grades, and after the system is really in working order there would be no actual need to go beyond the grammar grade, as the aim should be to have all really necessary instruction given then as so large a majority of pupils never go farther; but in the high school, if advisable, a course in bibliography could be introduced, based on their school work.
The use of the reference room, or reference desk, is a thing to be taught as much as the books themselves, and in this matter those libraries in which there is not an entirely separate children's room may have an advantage.
I am told that there is a certain feeling of timidity in entering a reference room which is sometimes hard to overcome in children accustomed to a special room and attendant.
Whatever the arrangement, they must be made to feel that the reference room, its appliances and its attendants, are part of their school outfit, an annex to the school as it were, however much we, carrying out the idea of Dr. Harris, may think the school an annex to the library. Accustom them as far as possible to use reference books at the library, and perhaps the coming generation will not invariably demand a book to take home, no matter how small the subject or how large the number of applicants for the same.
In this, as in all other school work, we must look to the teacher for aid after the technical use of our tools is taught.
The average child does not so much need the encouragement to read which may come from the library as constant guidance, which, to a large degree, must and does rest with the teacher, and in this matter of instruction much must depend on her even though the teaching itself is not imposed upon her as part of her duties. Explain to her your ideas, get her individual interest, and I can testify that she will assist in many ways. Children take their tone from their teacher, and the battle is half won if we have her hearty cooperation. A catalog should be placed in every school, and this she will help her pupils to use in nature work, history, and geography, and at the different holidays; also for their selections in speaking.
Particularly can she help in regard to their use of the reference room. She will remind them from time to time to go there instead of to the general delivery counter for special school topics. She will furnish a weekly memorandum of her essay work, this especially in the high school. She will send a warning note when her whole class is to descend upon us in a body at the busiest part of the afternoon, thereby probably saving our reputation in the minds of these young people whom we are laboring to convince that the library is an inexhaustible storehouse of information, equal to any demand which may be made upon it.
Now is the time for them to put their theoretical knowledge into practice, and we must often turn them loose with the reference books to find their own way, if we would be able in the future to deny the accusation that we are fostering laziness by having the very page and line pointed out.
I really believe that when the present library and school movement, has had time to exert its influence over even one generation, unlimited possibilities will unfold. Think what it will be to have our legislatures and city councils, our school and library boards and corps of teachers, drawn from the ranks of those who have grown up in the atmosphere of the public library to a true appreciation of its value.